The Colombian government has rolled out the National COVID-19 Vaccine Program with the head of the health portfolio, Minister Fernando Ruíz, outlining the schedule and guidelines for inoculating 36 million citizens, foreigners, and 1.7 million Venezuelans living in the country.

Ruíz clarified that most vaccines that have been purchased on the international market will require persons receive two doses and available free of charge through the EPS and IPS insurance programs. “Individuals should set aside an agenda for getting the doses 28 days apart in order to guarantee maximum protection against the disease”, stated Ruiz, adding that the Ministry of Health has also developed the App Mi Vacuna to update users on the status of the vaccination schedule based on age and pre-existing medical conditions. The Minister highlighted that the country has plenty of experience in vaccinating vulnerable populations, among them children, living in remote regions such as La Guajira, Amazonas and Chocó.” Getting vaccinated, however, does not signify the end of self-care measures, obligatory use of face masks, social distancing and hand washing, he asserted.

The 69-page document details how the government aims to vaccinate more than 70% of the country’s population by the end of 2021 beginning with persons aged 80 and older and frontline COVID-19 health care workers. Phase II includes those aged 60 to 79 and other medical professionals. In the third phase of the program are persons aged 16 to 59 with medical conditions, as well as primary and secondary school teachers. Phase IV encompasses populations at risk of being exposed to outbreaks, such as security members of the Armed Forces, prisoners and prison staff. The largest population – 17.4 million – has been classified as Phase V and covers those aged 16 to 59 who do not have pre-existing medical conditions.

The announcement that the national vaccine program begins mid-February with 40 million doses secured by the five leading pharma companies that successfully developed a coronavirus treatment comes as the country has almost doubled per-daily cases of new infection in January and witnessed 6,000 deaths from the virus since December 15. The death toll during 10 months of the pandemic stands at 46,782. During the initial outbreak of coronavirus last March, medical authorities claimed that country could reach the grim milestone of 50,000 deaths in 2020, and estimate now close to official figures from the National Institute of Health.

The Institute also confirmed that researchers mapped the genetic sequence of a strain of COVID-19 unique to the country of 21 variants currently circulating worldwide. The Colombian mutation, according to the Ministry of Health’s chief epidemiologist Julián Fernández is “more contagious, but less lethal,” than the original. The National Institute of Health denied allegations made by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López that the UK variant was circulating in the Colombian capital and cause for the alarming surge in infections and hospitalizations. Mayor López decreed a four-day strict lockdown for the city’s nine million inhabitants that will be followed by evening curfews from Tuesday, January 12 to Sunday, January 17.

After a record 18,221 cases confirmed on January 8, new infections have steadily declined to 14,179 on Tuesday, 3,001 of which were registered in Bogotá. Colombia remains in ninth place among the 10 nations with the most cases of coronavirus – 1,816,082 – surpassed by three European countries: Germany, Spain and Italy.

In order to decelerate the infection rate, despite a positive lowering of cases in recent days, Mayor López announced that a strict quarantine will once again be enforced as of Friday, January 15 (8:00 pm) to Monday, January 18 (4 am). On Monday, six additional localities – Bosa, Ciudad Bolivar, Puente Aranda, Rafael Uribe, San Cristobal and Usme – begin a two-week lockdown following a similar measure that currently includes the localities of Kennedy, Fontibón, Engativa, Teusaquillo, Usaquén and Suba.